Whilst trekking through Europe, we had a quick over-night stay just outside of Florence, so we made the most of it. We were en route via rental car down the coast from Cinque Terre toward the wine country of Tuscany, and couldn’t help but stop through. When we saw on the map that Pisa was on the way as well, just outside of Florence, we had to indulge for a “lunch break.”
Pisa is of course famous because of the legendary “Leaning Tower of Pisa”—so we stopped by the icon to pay homage. It was super touristy but loads of fun. After debating for a while about why the tower had become so famous over the centuries, we went to a nearby restaurant for some Italian pizza. This was only fitting because when I was younger and I saw A Goofy Movie, one of the characters has a stack of pizzas and makes a joke about how “It’s the leaning tower of pizza!” Did anyone else see that movie when they were younger? Anyone!?
After Pisa (and pizza), we loaded up to make the rest of the drive to Florence. What then ensued was sheer madness. Warning: If you ever visit Florence, DO NOT DRIVE IN TO THE CITY. I repeat: DO NOT DRIVE IN. The traffic was insane and the drivers were crazy. Cramped spaces, impossibly tight squeezes, blind corners, Italian profanities, every-man-for-himself swarms of vehicles, confusing traffic signage, ancient stone alleyways that lead to dead-ends you have to back out of but can’t…a complete nightmare. It was a miracle we made it without wrecking our rental car (in fact, at one point I did hit something with the car, but it somehow didn’t leave a mark. Again, a miracle…)
Anyway, once we escaped the horrible traffic from hell and finally found parking—we set out on foot to explore this ancient city. The rain was pouring down, but that didn’t stop us. Florence, mind you, is one of Italy’s oldest cities and is widely known as the birthplace of The Renaissance. The history here was INSANE. Every corner had fascinating ancient statues and sculptures that each seemed to tell its own story (or highlight profane ancient political messages).
Naturally we started out by visiting the Duomo, Florence’s most famous icon. This is a breath-taking giant cathedral with so much rich history. My favorite part was the masterpiece Vasari painting on the interior ceiling of the pointed dome cylinder. It took Vasari 11 years to paint it because of the size and all its intricate detail. Wow!
Since Florence is home to some of the best museums in the world, we decided to utilize our Florence stop by stomping through museums as much as possible. This was tiring (and eventually a bit spendy), but well worth it. Due to the long lines at the main attractions, we started with the smaller Palazzo Vecchio, which we knew about from reading the novel Inferno, by Dan Brown (which we HIGHLY recommend, especially if you like Thrillers/History/Travel/End-of-the-world-apocalyptic stuff). This is an incredible museum because it’s in a tiny palace that used to be home to tons of famous royal people throughout Italy’s history.
Winding through this museum was so fun (it’s like a maze!) with interesting stuff at every turn, and ceiling after ceiling of hanging canvas tapestries. The highlight though was seeing Dante Alighieri’s death mask. Dante was the author of the forever immortalized Dante’s Inferno (amongst many other famous works), and the death mask was a mold taken of Dante’s actual dead face upon his burial. So crazy! He was also a very creepy looking guy to begin with.
After Palazzo Vecchio, we were wiped and got back in the car (almost dying again in traffic) to go to our hotel in a nearby suburb.
The next day we had the first half of the day to finish exploring as much of Florence as possible before going to Tuscany. This time we wised up and took the train into the city, instead of driving (I repeat: DO NOT DRIVE IN FLORENCE!!!)
We got pastries and pranced through the ancient streets, crossing the beautiful Arno River using the crowded but legendary Ponte Vecchio (ancient bridge).
We waited in a long line to see the gigantic Boboli Gardens. Sarah thought the gardens were overrated and was disappointed because there were no flowers (it was mostly green bushes), but I absolutely LOVED all the amazing statues throughout those gardens and the details on the walls etc. So amazing!
Lastly, after some delicious Italian beers, we had a tough decision with our remaining time between visiting Uffizi Gallery (some of the most famous paintings in the world) and the Accademia. We landed on Accademia because I’ve always wanted to see Michelangelo’s David, which is the most famous statue in the world.
After seeing some Vasari paintings, Giambologna's Rape of the Sabines, and Michelangelo’s incredible and mysterious “Prisoners” carvings—we were immediately blown away by seeing David in person. Put in grossly simple terms, Michelangelo’s David is a naked guy carved out of white marble. However, this is one of the most magnificent pieces of art ever. I had never realized that David is actually 30 FEET TALL in real life!!! It would’ve taken forever to carve. And not only that, but Sarah and I were blown away by the details and couldn’t believe how back then, someone could create a statue that large yet so proportionate in all the body parts. Bizarre! We stared at the veins in one of the hands for a while and just marveled…IT LOOKED LIKE A REAL HAND!!!! So crazy.
All in all, Florence was an amazing city and we highly recommend visiting it. My two pieces of advice for Florence are: (1) Do not try to drive in the city (in case you missed that!), and (2) check the museum days/hours ahead of time because some of them are closed on certain days (like on Sundays and Mondays) and it’s a bummer to miss out on them because you didn’t plan ahead. Other than that, you have to find a way to visit this spectacular city and soak in all of the art, history, and culture!